Do you participate in our “informal mail art exchange?"
What has your experience been like?
One of our swappers reached out to me this week.
She sent 22 pieces of mail to people on the list. After 4 weeks, she’s only had 2 responses, and she’s disappointed. She wasn’t expecting immediate 1 for 1 responses, but thought she’d get more than 2 pieces of mail. From other comments and emails I’ve received, I think some of you have had similar experiences.
I’m wondering how many people on the list are still active. The list has been up for a long time, and some people who initially added their addresses might not be swapping anymore. A few people have removed themselves (or asked me to remove them) but there are lots of names and addresses I don’t recognize – people who haven’t participated in any formal swaps, and people who never leave comments or add to the “received” page. Perhaps these folks just aren’t interested any more? That’s okay, but there’s not really a way to tell if someone on the list is active or not. I hate to delete anyone who’s been happily and quietly swapping. It’s certainly not a requirement join a formal swap or comment on the blog.
We all know that “informal” mail is unpredictable. Response times differ. (I know personally that it can take me MONTHS to reply to mail – I’m not proud of it and I always intend to get better at it, but that’s the reality for me. I’m slow!). And sometimes when you send mail to a stranger you never hear back. That’s just the way it goes. Still, it surprised me to hear she’d only heard back from 2 out of 22. Is it a particularly busy time of year for people? Or is this a dead list?
So my first question for you all:
1. Do you have any ideas on how to keep the “informal mail art exchange” list up to date? Should I delete the whole thing and ask everyone to re-post their addresses if they are still interested in swapping? Or do you have other thoughts on how to remove inactive addresses and keep the active ones? (keep in mind, I’m not looking to institute new rules or procedures for mailing – the list is intended to be informal and isn’t something I can really moderate)
My second question is a more general one:
2. How do you get the most bang for your buck as a mail artist? (Meaning do you have any good tips for increasing the flow of mail to your box and improving your overall response rate)
Here’s one thought I had (if you’re looking to increase your odds of getting a response) – look at the “received” comments posted in the last few months. It will give you a sense of who’s active in the group and you can target your mailings to those people. It’s not a requirement to acknowledge your mail in the “received” forum, and there may be plenty of active swappers not commenting there, but I see the same names pop up over and over in that setting so I know some of you are sending/getting lots of good mail! If you don’t currently post any comments on the received page, you might consider doing so to let others know you are actively swapping.
Here are some reflections and advice based on my own experience:
I’ve been sending mail art for almost 3 years now. I don’t keep lists, but I’d guess that I’ve mailed to hundreds of different people over the years. I was a member of the International Union of Mail Artists for a while, I wrote to a lot of people on the “Good Mail Day” list, I sent informal mail to Swap-Bot partners, I joined a lot of postcard swaps. Lots of those people I never heard back from, or swapped with once or twice before they disappeared. It used to bother me a lot. But I found that by casting my net wide, I kept busy, and from those hundreds over the years I’ve now got about 50 people I exchange with on a fairly regular basis. However, my definition of “regular” might be different from someone else’s. Some people I hear from every few weeks, some people only once or twice a year. I might get three pieces of mail from a friend before I even get around to replying, (or I might send 3 pieces to the same person before I hear back) but over time I’ve built friendships and understandings, and with most of my mail friends we have stopped “taking turns” in the traditional sense. When I get into “mail mode” I will send to everyone on my list whether I’ve heard from them recently or not, and whether I’ve sent to them recently or not. This is what works for me. Having built this core group of like-minded souls, I no longer worry if I send something into the void. I probably have an 80-90% “return on investment” and the relationships I’ve formed are precious to me. It took time to get to this place. I’m glad I stuck with it, and I’m grateful to all of my mail art friends for putting up with my erratic response times.
I think that’s my rambling way of saying send a lot of mail. Keep sending it. Create for the absolute joy of creating, release it to the world, hope for the best. Know that everyone has a different approach to mail art. No approach is “right” or “wrong” but if you are trying to correspond with someone who has totally different expectations, you are bound to get frustrated. When you find people who create/write/respond in a way that is similar to you, embrace it. Ask those people how they built their mail list – ask for virtual introductions to their friends so that you can widen your circle. Sometimes all it takes is the patience and persistence to make a few key connections. Once you click with with a few people, you can help each other out and follow each other’s trails.
Okay – your turn! Share your tips for a happy mailbox, and your thoughts on how to keep our MMSA address list updated.